discerning like sheep

"Psychologically, "sheep" also refers to a primitive aspect of one's own personality, the instinctual ability to try to discern and recognize the "true voice" and distinguish it from false ones. (John Petty, in Progressive Involvement, May 9, 2011).

________________________________________________________________________

I remember years ago sitting in McDonalds while my youngest climbed around in those bacteria infested tubes. I know that his now fine health was partially developed then and there. The exercise his immune system received has served him well. I'd let him crawl, jump, slide and make instant friends. Occasionally he'd run over to get a drink, or to snag some fries. Usually the burger or nuggets were eaten before he could play. Need to eat the nutritious stuff first, right?

I would let him crawl around with all the other hooting and hollering kids. Screaming and crying. Laughing. Shrieking.  I would read, write sermons, check the news. The blanket of kiddie sounds was great for my concentration. I could think, reflect, and even pray. Some profound people listen to birds singing, waves crashing, or the sounds of rippling brooks. Some desperate folks (I been one of them from time to time) use a white noise app. I simply found the cacophony of wild children good as the wild sounds of nature.

Without fail however, when he found some innovation that made him a star among four year olds, he call, "daaaad!" I think I almost always heard it the first time. Though I was concentrating on work, I'd look up from time to time to make sure he was safe and following the rules. I wasn't totally absent.

But he'd call, 'Daaad" and I'd look up, see him jump, and slide and crawl and smile.

He was always a tall kid. I remember the day he could no longer enter Play Land. The height chart on the side that indicated how tall a kids could be to enter. While he was only about seven or eight, he passed the height requirement and those days were over.

But what amazed me at the time about those small adventures is that I was able to hear his voice. It wasn't that he was louder. He was just my kid. I knew his voice. When his voice called through the din, I heard it.

I heard him.

I knew his voice and the sound, the tone, the pitch, the cadence of his speech - I knew it all I needed to know, instantly.

There are days when God's voice breaks through. My own broken body and dreams get so loud as I try to solve the puzzle of my life. My concentration forms around the urgency of my daily moments. I grow deaf. Then I hear something. A turning leaf, the wind in my face, a memory, a smell. Then I can hear the Good Shepherd above the noise.

I heard him. I knew his voice and the sound, the tone, the pitch, the cadence of his speech - I knew it all I needed to know, instantly.


Comfortable and Careless Divides

I just had a weird experience. I kind of fell into it and wanted to kick myself for even trying it. It is one of those experiences that I warn others not to do. But I did.

divide.jpg


I (almost) got into a Facebook debate with someone I didn't know. Now I know them virtually, and virtual is good enough, for now.

But like most all Facebook politically oriented posts, this person placed a link to a new article. The news article lacked citations, did not define key terms, provided no discussion or alternative views, and made spurious conclusions without following the rules of reason. And I was like a trout with a woolly-bugger calling my name. I took the bait. I pointed out the intellectual faults and lack of sound reason used in the posted article. An I thought I was not only right, but had actually helped set someone straight.


Within a few minutes I had people accusing me of hate and support of nefarious individuals of whom the article in question had spoke disparagingly. Another suggested that if I didn't agree with the original person who posted the article I should unfriend them rather that being critical of them.


The message was clear, which I knew all along but had forgotten. Facebook loves echo-chambers in which your own thoughts are liked and then reflected back to you. Comments are intended only to elaborate the agreement.


It is sad. Because I think I could get along with most anyone. I find that there is common ground with almost everyone.


If we take time to build a relationship, even if it is about mundane stuff, we're better prepared for disagreement on substantial stuff.


There are lots of people I would not agree with in politics and religion. But we also see each other every Friday night at high school football games. Our love of our kids who play, the joy of the sport, and the fun and the excitement are unifying. I'm happy with that. And as long as we share the common ground of caring for our kids, about the school and the way it creates student-athletes, then I don't really care as much (or the same way) about the things which would divide us.

The difference being that I am among friends. People with whom our relationships are stronger than the differences which separate us.

Many years ago I read Stan Grenz' book, Beyond Foundationalism. After reading it, I had the pleasure getting to know Professor Grenz. We first met at a Friends pastors gathering. With his Baptist persuasion and my Anabaptist persuasion, we enjoyed bearing the anomalies of ritual among our friendly non-ritualistic Friends.


In the months after that weekend retreat, I began to look forward to the bridges that might be built between divergent streams of Christianity through the work of Grenz and Franke. Though not lined out in Beyond Foundationalism, there seemed to be realizations, or awarenesses that could heal many of the rifts that exist between traditionalists and progressives, between liberals and conservatives, between fundamentalists of various stripes. What was lacking were the practices to put those convictions into action.


One of the immediate confusions that arises, even among this concern, is the use of the language. We have many terms we can use to either positively identify ourselves. The statements simply begin with "I am" and give a description of ones self, a belief, or an experience. I am a guy that likes to cook and ride a bike. There is no real statement being made about anyone else. Just me. I could go further into the things I believe, my theological convictions, my voting practices, and how I get rid of squash beetles. And all of this provides a good deal of information. Alternatively, we also have lots of descriptors we use to negatively identify ourselves. "I am not" begins the sentence and one goes on to use language to similarly clarify.


But then there seems to be divisive language. Where we assert who we are by making it clear that we aren't like those others. In fact, too readily speaking of "traditionalists and progressives" or "liberals and conservatives" become a shortcut to pigeon hole and divide. I have never felt like I am fully part of one camp or the other. As we struggle with a culture caught up in polarities, slogans, and brash responses, I worry that I too get sucked into this familiar, comfortable and careless divide.


Alas, Stanley Grenz left this world before this important missiological and ecclesiological work could be completed.What kinds of settings, encounters, and activities would help us to look more deeply at the ideas laid out in Beyond Foundationalism and begin to generate Christian leaders whose practices reach beyond the comfortable and careless labels of "liberal" and "conservative"?  Looking forward to living the reality of actually being one in Christ.

Listening

I've become fascinated by our weakened ability to listen intelligently. Many more times than I wanted to keep track of in the past cycle of elections, people, not just candidates stopped listening. I'm not sure if they ever intended on listening.

Listening can feel like a slow process. It may not be all that that slow, it is just that the pace is being determined by others. Listening feels like waiting, it feels inactive. It is especially that way when one is listening to something disagreeable, incorrect, challenging, or not fully thought through. We want to refute, correct, defend ourselves, or critique. But what if we were just to listen? What might we hear?

"Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice," Jesus said. Notice that Jesus doesn't tell us that the truth is the possession of any one. It is the other way around. Truth possesses us. We are held in truth, but perhaps only to the extend that we get ourselves tuned to its ring.

Today I was talking to one of our students who is volunteering at a senior residential facility. He is studying to become a health care administrator so he can eventually work there. As he was telling me about the pure enjoyment he receives from listening to the residents. They talk about family. They talk about trips. They tell stories of the land, its changes and the transitions in their lives and the life of the community. But these residents often feel cast off and alone. My student described the deep appreciation the residents have for those willing to spend time and just listen.

Much of this kind of listening is slow and deliberate. For those of us who keep trying to be active and get things done, this kind of listening feels like a waste of time. We know that it isn't a waste, but there is often an ambivalence that keeps us swaying between getting tasks done, stating our own opinions, and moving on to the next subject. But for the residents at this senior living center, the greatest gift seems to be listening.

Why does such listening have to be limited to such times and places? What happens when we live in a society that has placed so much value on correct answers, knowledgeable opinions, and quick responses and relinquished the responsibility of actively listening well? What all do we miss when so much of what we say and hear becomes derivative drivel lacking any insight?

We need to learn to listen again.

Vocation Begins with Listening

It Begins with Listening

Everyday upon waking, we have three questions to respond to:

Who am I? What do I have to offer? And, who is my neighbor?

When these questions are asked by followers of Jesus Christ, the answers are transformative.

As each day opens up to unimagined diversions and distractions, a guiding intention for life must be in place.

Then the curves and detours are navigated, not with dread and fear of what lay behind the next corner.

Anxiety is reduced simply because we know what we are here for.  We have a purpose.

We have experienced times, though, in which the old approaches of the church fall woefully short of satisfying the apparent needs of the day.  Participation in church across the country continues to decline.

Financial support for congregations and denominational agencies is flagging.

The role of the church in society has changed.

Culture has become more complex and multifaceted.

Religious and spiritual concerns of people have become more individualized and pluralistic.

Facing the challenge of making the reign of God real among our neighbors and communities has become more complicated.

Sometimes we just try to work harder doing the same things we have done before. A definition of insanity… In these experiences, joy wanes, freshness is lacking, but transformation is waiting as we hear God again.

As our calling - as we have understood it - seems less effective, we may grope to "discover" our call, our vocation.

The discovery of a calling is not like constructing a building or crafting a work of art.

But more like a child find her way home by listening to her parent’s call, closing the distance the voice become clearer.

Discovering a call, it would make sense then, begins and ends with listening to a voice.

A call is not a committee’s work to forge and wordsmith, but a people’s work of listening.

Rather than crafting a vision and mission statement, we can actually listen and receive.  Listen to the voice that grants us our identity, and find out what that is calling us toward.

As we hear God calling us to engage in God’s mission, we find that we already have a mission statement.

It has come from God.

Jesus didn't speak in terms of vision and mission statements.  He granted us an identity, and he told us what to do with it:

"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven (

Matthew 5:13-16

).

Jesus has granted us an identity and a purpose in life.

Growing out of our God-given identity, we come to understand who we are and what we are being called to do.

We take stock of our resources, and discover who our neighbors are.

Listening to God, to each other, and to our neighbors, we begin to hear outlines of God’s mission and our invitation to join.

Reflecting on these listening experiences transforms our understanding of our identity, our calling, and who is around us as neighbors and partners.

What IMD Can Help You Accomplish

Through a series of conversations with scripture, your congregation, and your community, we can help you begin to distill and refine what you are hearing.

We will help you listen to the word of God by dwelling in the Word.

Dwelling in the Word is a specific corporate spiritual practice of encountering scripture as a living voice speaking fresh insights to our present experiences.

We help you listen to one another in the context of listening to God’s.

This will lead to a greater sense of clarity about what God is speaking into being through the community of faith.

Then we guide you in listening to the wider community to understand the needs and hopes which surround us, but not only in order to do good things for others.

Rather, we listen to the wider community to hear what God is already engaged in beyond our activities.

And in the process, in unexpected places, we find partners in extending the grace of the kingdom of God.

As we listen, we begin to hear God’s calling for us.

Instead of ending with a written mission statement, you will continue with an awareness of the mission God is calling you toward.

As this awareness grows new forms of congregational life will be considered as God’s Spirit transforms individuals and the congregation’s structures and systems.

As you begin to live into your new identity and call, helpful resources, practices, and structures to move forward will be developed, such as:

  • Staff configurations.
  • Transforming conflicts to energize you to engage in God’s mission for your church.
  • Charting short and long range transition plans as you move from a “maintenance” form of church life to a “missional” form can be charted.
  • New ministry resourcing and fundraising

A new awareness of God’s missional calling for your congregation does not end with ideas and awareness, but lives on in new practices and structures.

And many of these behaviors and practices are going to be unique to each individual church and parish.  

Listening to Eccentrics

From Latin, "eccentricus" derived the Greek, "ekkentros" meaning out of the center.

εκκεντρικός

                                Out of the center. 

Out of 

align

              m

          ent

Not quite like "normal".

Some eccentrics are famous, wealthy and reclusive billionaires. Others live on the streets and speak to passersby with emotion and confusion. But the vast sum of eccentrics are all around us. Literally, around us, not in the center of us.

Recently I have had fun in my Introduction to Psychology class.  I begin my first lecture by trying to define what we mean when we speak of the "self." Where is your "you" and my "me"? I try to lace my lectures with simple experiments that students can perform with minimal preparation. One that I find particularly interesting deals with the attempt to locate the self.

William James wrote about the self as that to which we attach ourselves.  In Richard Lipka's book, The Self: Definitional and Methodological Issues, he lines out the three selves James works with. First, the "material Me (body, clothes, family, home, property), the social Me, and the spiritual Me," (page 45). In his 1890 publication, The Principles of Psychology, William James spoke of the self as:

In its widest possible sense, however, a man's Self is the sum total of all that he can call his, not only his body and his psychic powers, but his clothes and his house, his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works, his lands and horses, and yacht and bank account.

The first experiment we do is a variation on the kid's games of "Sweet and Sour". This game tests the expectations we have for reciprocity. The rule of reciprocity, an expectation that my actions toward another will affect in the other a response. In the game, Sweet and Sour, one waves at people driving past. My kids have played on the street and in the back seat our car on the highway. As someone sees you, you wave at them. If they ignore you, they are considered sour, if they wave back, they are sweet.

But the shortcoming is the we extend ourselves to all those we acknowledge. And from those we acknowledge, we expect reciprocity. But first, there are the many we do not see. We miss them for lack of time, or attention, or interest. Second, there are those we do not see, because in seeing them, we might not like what we feel; whether it be obligation, confusion and misunderstanding, or even disgust.

When we come out of our centers, edge ourselves to the threshold, to the liminal spaces will we be able to respond, with reciprocity, to those acknowledge us? What stories might we tell of "living on the edge"?

You Won't be Able to Discern God's Actions...

...if you don't know what...

...God cares about.

This morning I was reading a wonderfully short blog by Scott McKnight, entitled "The OT's Most Important Command"* It got me thinking on a couple levels. 

Leaning on the work of Walter Brueggemann (and who wouldn't?), McKnight reveals a little know fact in the Hebrew language. There are no adverbs. Brueggemann explains, "I’ll give you a little Hebrew grammar.... Biblical Hebrew has no adverbs. The way it expresses the intensity of the verb, it repeats the verb. So if it says give and you want to say “really give” it says “give give” right in the sentence–”give give.”

This little lesson in grammar is not without a point. So if one wants to find a high priority command, look for lots of verbs repeated. With this in mind, Brueggemann says the most stressed command in the Old Testament is not what people might think.

How about,

  1. "Love the LORD your God..."? Nope
  2. "You shall have no other God's before me"? Nu-uh.
  3. "You shall work on six days, and the seventh is a sabbath to the LORD"? No.
  4. "Beat your swords into plowshares"? Not that either.

So before I reveal what McKnight wrote from Brueggeman, let me ask if we really know God well enough to share God's priorities? As a missional conviction, we need to be in mission where God has initiated mission. We look in our neighborhoods, along our sidewalks, where we work and where our kids go to school. We hope to see God active in our worshiping communities and active outside them as well. But we can be blind to what God is doing because we are seeking the actions of God in the wrong places.

If we know God's priorities, might we discern God in action in those places where God's priorities are made manifest?

Missional discernment needs people who know God. Prayerful, reflective, spiritual people who seek the heart of God in a living, personal relationship.

But missional discernment also needs to know about God. To have learned about, acted upon, engaged in the biblical narrative revealing God in action, let's us know this God we are seeking to know deeply.

Often I have thought we need to "know God" more than "knowing about God". But I'm rethinking that. Without knowing about God, we might be chasing a relationship with a god of our own creation. We need both knowing, and knowing about.

So, according to Brueggemann, what is the Old Testament's most important command?

"In 

Deuteronomy 15

, you get a law about seven years. It’s called the 

Year of Release

. It says that at the end of seven years, if a poor person owes you money, cancel the debt." As Brueggemann explains, "[The law] says to not be hard-hearted (or tight fisted) about granting poor people space to live their lives, because you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord God brought you out into the good place." Scott McKnight adds, "So grammatically, the Old Testament scripture with the 

most emphasis

 as in “you must must must must 

must

 do this” is a passage about forgiving debts."

God cares about releasing debts. This is big. Very big. And it let's us know where God's heart is. 

*

(

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2013/12/12/the-ots-most-important-command-brueggemann-style/

)

God in a Gorilla Suit

"One more thing"

There's an experience I often have when I preach. As soon as I get done, I often think of other things I should have said.  There have been times I have felt compelled to walk back up to the pulpit and say, "oh yeah, one more thing." But I haven't. Yet.

From this past Sunday, Advent 3A, the gospel lesson...

Matthew 11:2-3:

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

I was impressed by the reality that humanity missed figuring out who God's messiah was the first time, reminding me of the question as to whether or not we'll figure him out at the second coming.

In psychology, there is a condition called inattentional blindness. We tend to be blind to things we don't have a category for in our experience. We can be blind to the degree we are in denial about what we don't wish to see. But most interesting, is the blindness to things we don't know we should be looking for.

The popularized version of this condition has circulated on the Internet. Daniel Simons from  the University of Illinois developed the test. His explanation of it can be found at the

theinvisiblegorilla.com

. There a number of videos there to become familiar with the concept.

Theological Discernment

But in terms of theological discernment, how do we attend to God's presence? Do we see, or do we merely look at what is taking place around us? Daniel Simons mentions that those who claimed not to see the gorilla in the experiment, actually had their eye on the gorilla for up to second, but claimed not to see it. We can

look

at something, but if we don't

see

it, then is was never there. Looking at and seeing are not the same.

How can we discern our lives and culture so as to answer John's question from prison: is Jesus the one, or shall we expect someone else? If John has trouble seeing God's messiah in his own community, would there be potential difficulty for us to do any better than John? How is God showing up, in unseen ways, in our communities now?

Even if God were in a gorilla suit, we still might not see.

Blowing off Steam: Listening with Limbics

Blowing Off Steam

I wonder if there's a real connection between the ears and anger. Why else would we come up with these images of steam blowing out the ears? 

Have you ever had the experience of making a comment, or hearing someone else make a comment, which left you blank, mundane, neutral, or at least not agitated? But then, another person having heard the same thing has a volcanic reaction

Limbic Listening

Nathan Bauman, PhD, wrote to The Hearing Journal to highlight the role of the limbic system in listening. While Dr. Bauman writes about the unsettling effect of hearing aids for a person with partial hearing loss, it also makes me curious about the emotional reactions we may have to what we hear. Does communication breakdown, not because of the content, but because of the emotional reaction we have to the sounds, or perhaps the connotation we place upon what we hear?
As Dr Bauman notes,
"Part of our regulatory auditory mechanism, which tunes and de-tunes our attention process, is the limbic system. It is responsible for assigning more or less attention to a given auditory input. So, if there are multiple auditory inputs, the input most relevant to our conscious and subconscious mechanism receives top priority. When the limbic system detects new and/or more relevant information, it passes it on to the auditory cortex for processing. At the same time, a certain emotional association is assigned to it." (http://journals.lww.com/thehearingjournal/Fulltext/2004/07000/The_Role_of_the_Limbic_System.16.aspx)

Emotions and Discernment

By connection, I've lately been wondering about the role of the limbic system in discernment and if we are led by the emotional responses that are processed in the limbic system by what we hear, and the emotional connotation we attach to it. One of the primary roles the limbic system provides is the fight, flight, and freeze reactions, i.e., fear-based reactions. For instance, the limbic system is the system that creates the feeling in us that the roller-coaster ride will kill us. But the process of having the same or similar set of reactions on subsequent trips on the roller coaster may result in "fun" (not me, though). 

Why are the two reactions different? The first is pure emotion and a panic response for survival. The second response engages in "cognitive appraisal" and uses the higher thinking portions of the frontal cortex. 
So:
  • What if we are working with people for whom fear, panic, or anxiety is a present reality?
  • What does hope do to engage more critical thinking and less emotional reactions?
  • How does an anxious church or organization "hear"? 
In my work with congregations experiencing anxiety, I've been impressed by the predisposition they have had toward fear. My immediate role has always been to allay fears. One of the questions that usually emerges in one way or another is, "is there any hope for us?" I always have to say "yes." But I also have to realistically prepare them for difficulty and change. Hope is always a gift. Especially to those with steam coming out of the ears. 

On the 30th Anniversary of the 20th Anniversay of MLK's March on Washington

When I was a child, I remembered the news the morning that Martin Luther King, Jr was shot. Before school, our morning ritual often included watching Captain Kangaroo, if we had time after breakfast. But I remember, as and eight year old, on the morning of April 4th, 1968, it was news. No Captain Kangaroo. The stories on the news were about the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.

My grandfather was a preacher and church planter. I remember as a kid hearing him preach, and even as a kid, I wasn't bored. He usually made people laugh. He was jolly. And when Christmas came around, I wondered whether or not my grandpa was the real Santa Claus.

And I knew that Martin Luther King was a preacher, too. He had that in common with my grandfather. If my grandfather was kind, loving, and trying to help people know God. I knew that Martin Luther King was trying to do the same things. So when he was killed, I remember feeling shocked. I wondered how could anyone kill a nice man that was trying to help people and tell them about God.

In 1963, I was too small to toddle my way to Washington D.C.  But when I was twenty-two years old and in seminary at Eastern Baptist Seminary in Philadelphia, I was old enough to go to the 20th anniversary of the march. I had been bless with a good friend, Mike Minch and a wonderful professor, Ronald Sider. Mike and I were working as teacher's aids for Ron. Ron was on the planning committee for the anniversary march, and were invited to go along. We had to have our social security numbers researched for crimes or other red flags. We were cleared then to go back stage at the event. We met civil right leaders, politicians, and musicians. I remember meeting John Perkins there, Peter, Paul and Mary, Graham Nash, several church leaders from around the world, and a number of politicians who have passed out of the national limelight.

It was a tiring day of speeches, music, hope and excitement.

It was the closest I got to walking along the path of Martin Luther King. While I had not clearly envisioned the future, I was hopeful. I anticipated a day when The Dream would be realized. In fact, I thought I had sensed that day dawning.

But now I wonder. Our attitudes, not toward the law, but toward people when it comes to immigration, are attitudes of distrust, even anger. The numbers of people from any economic class who continue to be profiled because of their apparent skin color. The continual listing of dangerous people which no longer includes just criminals, but now includes a religion - Muslims. I think about the ways in which we continue to break our communities up into smaller fragments, and those fragments in smaller fragments, and then the numbers of families who rarely see each other. Sometimes it seems as if The Dream does not even enter into our own homes.

It has been three decades since I commemorated the 20th anniversary of the march on Washington. And I do know, that even though I did not clearly articulate where we would be in 2013, I do feel as if I have let myself and others down by falling short of the mark.

But I do rejoice in the small victories. My children have friends who cover the range of gender identities, disabled and differently-abled,  the range of ethnicities, and religions. I see the ease with which they welcome others. I think we as a community are doing something right. I know much of this comes from the foundations of our faith, but also so much of it comes from the quality of our neighbors, their teachers and coaches. Maybe we are moving forward, but slower that I had hoped thirty years ago.

I guess the trouble with marches on Washington is that the march itself becomes the event. The 250,000 people gathered there today. But the event that should catch our attention and focus our efforts is, to go back to our homes and make a difference there. As Martin Luther King said,

"Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you today my friends -- so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

Live the Dream. 

To the Best Dad (in my) World

While think of my dad, I think of MY dad. I don't really think about fatherhood, per se. Nor do I really think about my being a dad. I just hunk about my dad.

My dad has shaped my world:
I see things differently because of my dad. I look at the tops of mountains differently.
I listen to people whistle, trying to discern if there is a coded message in the short and long tweets being whistled (-.-. --.- repeat. Or, long short long short long long short long, I think). 
I smell thinks differently, remembering comments he's made while walking by department store perfume counters.
I think he's affected my sense of flavor. At least every time I have black licorice (which I try never to do on purpose), I think of him.

But more than that, I watched and learned about how to be a caring son by the way he interacted with my grandpa.

I took note about how he loved my mother, with affection, care, companionship, all the way through. I can only hope to do the same.

I learned how to reason like a dad. To be firm, to choose battles wisely, and to know when to let some things slide a bit.

There is much more. But I know that my world is a different place, a more organized, more caring, more selfless, more steady place because of my dad.

My dad is more than the "best dad in the world" whatever that objective measuring stick might be. I'm looking to have a competition against other dads.

My dad is the best man in my world. 

Faithful Panicking

This will be a long day.

I had one of those vivid dreams that starts up again once you close your eyes. Not a horrible, blood curdling, sacrry dream borne of too much pizza and horror movies. No, I think this maurader was simply borne of a kind of subconscious self-assessment.

The story line doesn't really matter. What matters was how I felt upon waking. I was vulnerable and regretful.

My first response, okay, my second response. My first was to try to go back to sleep. So after that didn't help I just started reciting the Lord's Prayer. I contemplated the 23rd Psalm, and listened to the crickets through the window.

I heard my son cough due to his summer cold. Then blow his nose. The cat jumped on my feet as if there were a tasty mounse under the covers. I think he blew his nose, again. My son, I mean, not the cat.


Then I heard the coffee pot, which is set for 4:15 start brewing. It was as the scent of fresh brewed coffee arrived in my bedroom I realized my night of restlessness was done.

Sipping my second cup of coffee before heading to the gym I simply prayed to God "preserve me with your mighty power, that I may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity, and I all that I do direct me to the fulfilling of your purpose..."

Now I just need to stay awake through game two of the NBA finals.

Emergent Ecclesiology of an Exodus Church

In my favorite chapter of my favorite book, by favorite author, Jurgen Moltmann writes:
"The peculiar character of the Christian faith [comes] to expression in conflict with the things that are socially axiomatic. If Christianity, according to the will of him in whom it believes and in whom it hopes, is to be different and to serve a different purpose, then it must address itself to no less a task than that of breaking out of these socially fixed roles." (Theology of Hope, pg, 324)

And,

"Here the task of Christianity today is not so much to oppose the ideological glorification of things, but rather to resist the institutional stabilizing of things, and by 'raising the question of meaning' to make things uncertain and keep them moving and elastic in the process of history....Hope alone keeps life ...flowing and free."

That last sentence has kept me buoyed in many difficult days. These quotes are taken from the chapter, "Exodus Church." The allure of accommodating to power and social stability is mesmerizing. Imagine slaves in Egypt who defend their task masters, opposing Moses, only in order to keep the status quo instead of being launched into the unknown. 

From theologies like expressed by Moltmann, the church in the emergent age has chosen to look with discernment on the things of socially defined religious practice. What it has sought is a clear expression of what an eschatological church would look like. Since the church in the past centuries had been defined by society through alliances with monarchs and political movements, the opportunity to be defined by an alternative society,i.e. the reign of God. 

Richard Dadd: Flight Out of Egypt
While the theology of the kingdom of God, of heaven, the reign of God, the Day of The Lord, etc. is too broad to discuss here, the view of  Moltmann is expressed in the concluding chapter title to his Theology of Hope. We are to be an "exodus church". This expressly speaks of movement and going somewhere based on faith, but also implicitly of leaving that to which we have been enslaved.

In the twenty years following the publication of Theology of Hope, the church in the West continued to seek way in which it could practice its faith without challenging the social meaning of the church or "challenging the institutional stabilizing of things." But the struggle with diminishing returns and the grasping on the philosophical handle of postmodernist, the church began to see why doing the same old thing was no longer working. Largely, the world had changed. In the words of Al Roxburgh, "the sky is falling", which expressed the significant change that was socially taking place, but the to say that the ground under our feet had shifted, might be more accurate. 

The non-eschatological role the church had taken on began to collapse as the stabilizer of things became harder to accomplish. Think of the reign of the religious right in the 1980s, the emergence of all things "christian" from music, to bookstores, amusement parks and television networks. Rather than expressing an other worldly perspective, they sought to do what the rest of capitalism had done, form a business plan and make money using the same principles, while all the time talking about Jesus largely for those who already knew him. But the power of the Moral Majority and the Christian Broadcasting Network began to wane in the 1990s. So closely tied to contemporary social political power, these organizations did not realize the ship upon which they had boarded was leaving port. And while one would want to think that denominational churches with deep and rich traditions and sound orthodox theology moved in another direction - but they followed, too.


As the social institutions continued to loose stability, postmodern philosophy began to make more and more sense. The renewed importance of the local, the contextual, the pre-Constantinian traditions of the church began to strike a nerve. When, in 1989 Stanley Hauerwas and William 
Willimon published their book Resident Aliens, they spoke to the unease in the western church. With comments like: "it's not like the history of the church from 319 to 1520 was all wrong," and "the church speaks a truth that the world could not otherwise know" they addressed the short comings of the residue of the state church defined by a socially acceptable and rational theology. Rather, the church is composed of a unique story, frequently cooped or worse, forgotten. 


With the emphasis on the local and contextual, some Christian leaders removed themselves from the all the trappings of the enslaved, pre-Exodus Church. These dropped and dropping trappings included, but are not limited to:
  • Denominational polities based on other than theological organization
  • Large, maintenance oriented, mega-churches and churches that were larger than ones 'oikos'.
  • Congregational budgets which slanted toward personnel and buildings
  • Skepticism over seminary trained pastors
  • Reducing the weight of propositional faith claims
  • Questioning the interpretations of theological heritage that supported status quo
  • The imposed separation of the world into secular and sacred, especially in the area of the arts
  • Shifting of imagination from resourcing failing accommodation to new forms of church
One of the results of postmodern emphasis on local and contextual, on narrative instead of polities and on practices rather than propositions has been the reduction in denominational allegiances at the same time there has been a renewal in appreciation for the depths of different Christian traditions. As a result, there have emerged new expressions of some historical and even ancient Christian practices.

Neil Cole and Reggie McNeil moved toward a house church model emphasizing the early Christian gatherings. The Book of Acts serves not only as an historical description, but is also established as prescriptive norm. Many house churches have thrived and become networks as the fellowships outgrow the homes. Some have take the idea and recast the house church as a monastic movement and developed group homes reminiscent of the 1960 and early 1970s attempts at communes, known as intentional Christian community.

Several of these intentional Christian comunities share in "the 12 marks of new monasticism". The following list is from The Simple Way Community of Philadelphia. But this list can be found in many communities.
  1. Relocation to the abandoned places of Empire.
  2. Sharing economic resources with fellow community members and the needy among us.
  3. Hospitality to the stranger
  4. Lament for racial divisions within the church and our communities combined with the active pursuit of a just reconciliation.
  5. Humble submission to Christ’s body, the church.
  6. Intentional formation in the way of Christ and the rule of the community along the lines of the old novitiate.
  7. Nurturing common life among members of intentional community.
  8. Support for celibate singles alongside monogamous married couples and their children.
  9. Geographical proximity to community members who share a common rule of life.
  10. Care for the plot of God’s earth given to us along with support of our local economies.
  11. Peacemaking in the midst of violence and conflict resolution within communities along the lines of Matthew 18.
  12. Commitment to a disciplined contemplative life.
Other emergent expressions have been moved by narrative more than proposition. Some of these have become places in which the arts play a prominent role. Churches like the Church of the Apostles in Seattle valued a variety of visual arts and located itself in a struggling neighborhood. One of the unique things about Church of the Apostles, is that it is an old mainline denominationally formed church. Along those lines, other denominations have experienced the development of emergent church networks. Adam Walker Cleaveland has had a significant impact on the creation of Presbymergent. Stuart Murray Williams has helped foster the Anabaptist Network. And there have been similar fellowships emerge within other mainline denominations.

While there has been a coinciding trend that the emerging churches have had a strong missional foundation, it is not always the case. There have been some churches of the emergent trend that while embracing the contextualization of the gospel, and being influenced by the deconstruction philosophy of postmodernity, have nonetheless not embraced missional theology. More on this later, perhaps.

The intention here was to give an historical and philosophical overview of some influences on the church that have led to the emergent development. Other issues to look at would also include the resurgence of evangelicalism in Great Britan, under significant influence by Stuart Murray. Also, one could look at the foundation in exegesis in that many emergent churches have a preference for gospel narratives, and the prophets, more than the texts of Old Testament royaly or epistles. Perhaps that can be for another discussion. But what is clear is that ecclesiology of many emergent churches, and the emergent discussion as a whole, has been the renewed emphasis on church reflecting the reign of God moreso than the reign of Caesar, or the reign of militarism, or the reign of Wall Street. The idea of eschatologically formed communities as alternatives offers the world a "truth it could not otherwise know".

Peter's Pentecostal Preaching


I was struck while, hearing the lectionary reading a few weeks ago from the book of Acts and the story of Pentecost. Peter and the disciples were thought to be drunk. I imagine people laughing and dancing, seemingly a bit socially confusing.  

Rather than beginning with a clear defense, an explanation, Peter orients those present to a non-didactic social imagination from a prophet long deceased. He references dreams and visions. Dreams and visions begin with grand and uncontrolled stories that are witnesses more than they are spoken. They are emotionally impressive rather than intellectual. And, visions and dreams are unreasonable. Dreams and visions are more like blending and stirring together of ironic or even opposing ideas. Dreams and visions, iconic images, irrepressible illustrations, and redemptive social imaginations - these are the tools of poets, artists, and those who break the edges of molds and forms established by powers, empires, and religious leaders who believe their job is to stabilize. Like the artists I've known, these Pentecostal disciples formed a performance art piece that got people talking.

And the work of art they emerged within, and they fit into, they blend, into an emotionally charged whole.

Are there answers like these to "explain" the performance art of our unreasonable and irrrepressible imaginations? Or, do we not seem noticeable to our neighbors, not "drunk" enough, but far too sober?

Listening Not: Or at least, choosing what to ignore

Irritated students wanting an unfair advantage...
The piles of unpaid bills, always reproducing themselves....
The work unfinished - at work - at home - in me....
Continuously running replays of decisions
        I could have
        I should have
        if only I would have...
Regrets that I have gone over and and over before...

I can think of people I should see, talk to
I can think of creations, imaginings, emerging I should foster...

Weeds to pull.

But right now all I choose to attend to is



There's pulsating breeze from the north shushing through the new leaves. The sky is so clean it should ring on the breeze like rubbing the rim of fine crystal.

 There's a curious cat softly wandering through my spring planting of snow peas, wishing the birds were slower, or wishing it could fly,


There is the throaty cackling of starlings, almost clucking as they gather fallen seeds
The goldfinch with swoop, swoop flight chirping as it flies as if sing were breathing
The cooing doves watch from the peaks of the roof awaiting a clearer path to the seed their gentle call sounds as if being polite will make the starling give way


And my favorite red-winged black birds with referee-whistle chirping


It is refreshing to listen to the late spring greening all around.





There are times when I must listen deeply and carefully. But I must also choose what I will be listening to. This afternoon, I'm listening to spring in my backyard.

But now I hear my wife calling... I recognize the ringtone.....

The Church: An Over View Hans Kung's Ecclesiology



In 1962 the Roman Catholic Church met at what was called Vatican II to address how the Roman church was addressing issues of the modern world.  The issues established by the Council of Trent in the 16th century seemed to no longer be adequate for meeting the needs of a modern church. One of those involved in this Council was a theologian named Hans Küng.  In his magnificent book, The Church, he gives an outline of what it means to be the church (Küng 19).   It is rare indeed to find a book which is still “cutting edge” thirty years after being written, yet in The Church Küng makes relevant observations and challenges that are appropriate for the twenty-first century church.

Küng does not seem to be a rebel but rather is a prophet to his own tradition and fortunately, his insight spills over to help all of the Church develop its identity and mission.  An important primary focus for Küng is his use of the Biblical text as the foundation for a proper ecclesiology. Using all of scripture but leaning heavily on the perspective of the New Testament, Küng seeks to develop a vision of what the Church ought to be.  Scripture is his primary source, at every point letting the Gospel and the Letters frame the discussion and thereby letting Scripture critique and guide how the book proceeds.  His basic concept throughout is that the church is not a stagnant entity, established at a certain point in history, then demanding that surrounding culture respond to it.  He writes, “All too easily the Church can become a prisoner for the image it has made for itself at one particular period in history” (Ibid).  

He says, “Every age has its own image of the Church, arising out of a particular historical situation; in every age a particular view of the Church is expressed by the Church in practice, and given conceptual form by the theologians of the age” (Küng 4).    In saying this he is not discounting the value and the weight of the authority of those who have gone before. For Kung there is a “constant factor” which underlies what the Church is at its essence. 

He states: “The foundations of the church are part of the eschatological expectation of the coming kingdom of God.  And there are a variety of vital images of the church, including the church as the People of God, the church as the Creation of the Spirit, and the church as the Body of Christ. From the great creedal statements he seeks to understand what it means that the Church is One, Catholic, Apostolic, and Holy” (Ibid). 

In his discussion of the Church as the Body of Christ, he begins by looking at what is often considered the beginning of entry into the church, baptism.  This act is a significant expression of faith and a dedication to Christ, which spurs one to take an active part in the life of the church (Küng 206).   At its core, faith then becomes more than a simple individual decision it is something that one does as part of a community. Baptism signifies the presence and commitment to a community of faith, a community that owes its allegiance to Jesus.  Küng argues that the believer is not making him/herself a part of the community through the sacrament of baptism, but is rather acting in response to God’s call to be part of community.

The community draws the new believer into what has been established by God, thus the community and the Spirit are both active in the lives of those who become a part of God’s family called Church.  Baptism is just a commitment of the individual to the church it is also a commitment of the community to the person. This act of commitment guarantees a relationship of encouragement and accountability.  One of the profound ideas that Küng provides is that even if the person chooses to reject committing to the church, the church is still held to its commitment to the person. The church continues to draw those who have been baptized into a healthy and prosperous relationship. 

Küng discusses the purpose and meaning of the Lord’s Supper.  He states: “The new fellowship which met to share meals was according to the New Testament characterized by eschatological joy (cf. especially Acts 2:46): joy in the experience of this new fellowship, joy especially in the awareness of fellowship with the glorified Christ who would be present in the meal of the community, joy above all in their excited expectation of the approaching kingdom of God” (Küng 216).  

This joy derives from a threefold perspective that should characterize the People of God: the past—recollection and thanksgiving for how God has acted, especially in the life and death of Jesus.  The present—is the celebration of the community, and the One who draws it together and unites the separate individuals into one church.  The future—brings the joy of anticipation, the anticipation of the future consummation of history and the eternal reign of the Messiah.  As a link to the future this Eucharistic (joy filled) meal already anticipates in the present that which is not yet fully known.  This meal is thus a “fellowship, koinonia, communio” (Küng 222) with the risen Christ and his present community.

A topic that was of great interest was heresy. Küng asks the question of what the church is to do with heresy. He defines heresy as people or ideas which threaten the core unity of the church.  He notes that the majority opinion does not always equal correctness.  The minority is not always the one which needs to be reunited with the majority.  In responding to heresy, the reaction should not be simply to reject or attack.  Rather, Küng points out that there is always an element of truth in heresy. There is something which the heresy is exaggerating or pointing out, even if to an extreme level, that may be highlighting a church weakness that needs to be reviewed or reexamined. 

The Church, Küng argues, while intent in preserving all Truth, may not be willing to hear correction.  Küng boldly states, “In all ages the Church has been partly responsible for the rise of great heresies, and nearly always by neglecting or even by obscuring and distorting the Gospel” (Ibid).  Heretics are rarely seeking the destruction of the church for its own sake, but rather are wrestling with their own faith.  In responding to heresy, the church must realize its commitment to the baptized, listening and being willing to look at its own missteps, letting heresy become constructive rather than divisive and destructive.

In the first part of his last section on “The Offices of the Church,” Küng takes up a rallying cry of the Protestant reformation which is the Priesthood of all believers.  Taking up again the idea of the church as the people of God and the body of Christ, Küng maintains that
all Christians are taught and led and supported by the Spirit directly, without mediation, and they are all to live by the Spirit.  The anointing is not just given to prophets and kings, but to the whole community, each individual being filled with the fullness of God.   This means that all believers have direct access to God, allowing themselves to be a spiritual offering to God thus becoming holy in every action.  All believers also are called to be preachers, not simply with words but with actions, not simply in the church building but in all of their lives” (Küng 377).
 
The Scriptures are thus preached in every part and place of society, in a multitude of ways, expressing through manifold ways the love which God has for the whole world.  Küng writes, “Every believer can and must, having been taught by God, teach others; can and must, having received the word of God, be its herald in some form or other” (Ibid).   The early church was able to spread the Christian message so quickly and thoroughly because it was proclaimed by all through the work and power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of all believers, not simply through the anointed message of a charismatic evangelist.

With this comes the idea that baptizing, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and the forgiving of sins does not require the presence of a particularly degreed individual.  Each person in the church, Küng writes, has the power to baptize and teach, to administer and receive the whole of the Eucharistic feast, to take part in the reception and forgiveness of those who sin. This is a startling statement for a Roman Catholic theologian/priest to make. It is no wonder that the Roman church did not approve.  

He believes that a church filled with the Spirit should be able to effectively mediate between God and the world, with a responsibility which goes far beyond simply inviting someone to church. The believer, not just the clergy, is charged to devote themselves to others, through prayer and service allowing the light of Christ to shine even in the darkest places. The believer “lives before God for others and is in turn supported by others” (Küng 381).  Küng continues by saying, “The worship of this priesthood thus develops from being worship within the community to being worship within the everyday secular world” (Ibid); this worship would radically transform the church itself, and radically impact the world it is called to serve.

Using the Scriptures as a whole, Hans Küng offered to the church a text which has few parallels. Indeed it is sad that this text is now out of print, and the thoughts of over thirty years ago really never have been properly addressed by many church communities.  The thoughts which it contains are really as radical now, and point to how the church needs to continue to examine itself. 

Küng believes that if the church continues solely in a structure of the past, the church will no longer be able to discover or relate what the Spirit is doing in the present.  By acknowledging the work of the Spirit, becoming communities which seek to celebrate rather than direct and limit how the Spirit is moving, we can become participants in the salvific work which is being done in our midst, with or without our assistance.  Küng offers a tremendous outline for recovering a fluidity in our structures, showing us the boundaries and guidelines which would let us end a rigid argumentative tendency and become truly a community led and moved by the Spirit of God.

Bibliography

Küng, Hans. (1967). The Church.  New York:  Sheed and Ward

*Dual Ravens did a good review, I have used portions of their review but have not cited specific quotes because I have added to, and edited their essay significantly, but I wanted to give accurate credit. This saved me a lot of time writing my review.

Listening to an Ass

There are times when I just don't want to listen anymore. Some bozo is blathering on about some issue, some hot topic, some rumor, some half-digested gristle of a bone-headed idea. Not only that, but this individual is passionate about it. And there are few things as irritating as the passionate pontificating of an an annoying ass.

I decided to look up on Google the answer to the question, "how do you spell the sound a donkey makes?" I was surprised to find the wiki.answers.com had the answer in over 20 languages. I guess there are pronunciations in other languages that just don't transliterate well.

For the Danish, the donkey says, "aeslet skryder" which would actually be pretty amazing. Apparently though, to most languages donkey's say something like "hee-haw".  The inverted sounds of Ukrainian and Turkish donkey's undoubtedly make for some lame arguments as Turkish donkeys bray "a-iii, a-iii" while the contrary Ukrainian donkeys counter with "ii-aa, ii-aa." However the Hindi donkeys may be my favorite with their unique "si-po, si-po" (see wiki.answers for more).

Perhaps the best way to listen to an ass, is to figure out where it is from. Maybe Ukrainian donkeys pronounce things differently because of their experiences. The Scandinavian donkeys with their complex sounds may be some evolutionary derivation from long dark winter nights and the desire to talk about something else other than the same old same old.

Even an Ass Needs to be Heard

Somewhere along the way, we have to realize the ass will keep braying loudly, just so it can be heard. Even an ass needs to have a voice. But even more, maybe the lone voice of the one ass is actually the one voice that is most needed.

Several years ago I learned a consulting technique from Pat Taylor Ellison of Church Innovations. We had a process of gathering stories from a local congregation or parish. It was a form of local ethnography. We listened to the storied responses to key questions from which the congregation wanted to gain insight. The questions were always framed with appreciative inquiry in mind, so the "answers" were actually responses to prompts asking for stories.

In democratic societies, we tend to to think that which ever story or opinion is provided most often must be the correct answer, the most insightful answer. We tend to conflate the prevailing narrative into being the correct, important, or key narrative. But what I learned from Pat and the process she taught was that the lone voice with a unique story was important as well, and could actually be the most important voice to listen to.

That Braying Ass

In the story of Balaam, a non-Israelite prophet, we learn that he rides upon an unnamed donkey. It is the donkey here that is the hero of the story. In The Message, the story is told from Numbers 22:21-33

Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey, and went off with the noblemen from Moab. As he was going, though, God’s anger flared. The angel of God stood in the road to block his way. Balaam was riding his donkey, accompanied by his two servants. When the donkey saw the angel blocking the road and brandishing a sword, she veered off the road into the ditch. Balaam beat the donkey and got her back on the road.


But as they were going through a vineyard, with a fence on either side, the donkey again saw God’s angel blocking the way and veered into the fence, crushing Balaam’s foot against the fence. Balaam hit her again.


God’s angel blocked the way yet again—a very narrow passage this time; there was no getting through on the right or left. Seeing the angel, Balaam’s donkey sat down under him. Balaam lost his temper; he beat the donkey with his stick.


Then God gave speech to the donkey. She said to Balaam: “What have I ever done to you that you have beat me these three times?”

Balaam said, “Because you've been playing games with me! If I had a sword I would have killed you by now.”


The donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your trusty donkey on whom you’ve ridden for years right up until now? Have I ever done anything like this to you before? Have I?”He said, “No.”

Then God helped Balaam see what was going on: He saw God’s angel blocking the way, brandishing a sword. Balaam fell to the ground, his face in the dirt.


God’s angel said to him: “Why have you beaten your poor donkey these three times? I have come here to block your way because you’re getting way ahead of yourself. The donkey saw me and turned away from me these three times. If she hadn’t, I would have killed you by this time, but not the donkey. I would have let her off.”

How do You Listen to an Ass?

1. Where's that sound coming from, part 1?

Most likely that braying sound is not coming from your ride, or from the sound of those with whom you travel through your days. More likely, it is from beside the path or at a distance. It might be coming from the places others don't usually visit, aside from the crowd, from the outlier. The outlier is one who is not reflected in the prevailing statistical averages. They are the anomaly, the odd ball. As a result, they are sometimes in social isolation. I'm reminded of a church marquee during a national election week. The message on the sign stated, "The majority is rarely correct." There are times that those who are not enmeshed with the staus quo actually see things with greater clarity. Who are those who are alone, isolated, odd-ball characters in your life? What are they saying? Might there be a kernel of wisdom worthy of of consideration from their unique perspective?

2. Where's that sound coming from, part 2?

As listening skills atrophy in our overly connected culture (see Together Alone, Sherry Turkle) our ability to "attend to" another person is correspondingly weakened. Attentional listening not only listens to denotative content (attentive listening, as it has been taught), but attends to the humanity of the person communicating. What is said from the history, perspective, the emotional center of the person is not always reflected in the words. Attentional listening forces the exercise of empathy and careful attention to the non-verbals, the context, and the timing. Where, then in the life of the person, is this sound emerging?

3. Learning the languages of asses (see above wiki reference)

Not everyone means the same thing when they use familiar words. I recall learning the difference between conversational questions, and rhetorical statements intended to hide criticism. Once I was asked if I thought my preaching was satisfactory. When I answered, I thought with humility, stating that I believed I knew the congregation, I believed I had studied the texts well, and that the applications and illustrations were helpful. I also stated that I wasn't used to preaching so infrequently and that I felt as if I was not in rhythm, was a little out of sorts. It was a couple years later that I was told that was an argumentative answer. That I had been criticized for not preaching well and I argued back. I was told I should have known that the question to me was not a question, but a statement; and, I should have been aware of the passive aggressive habit of the questioner and the culture.

Learn the language of the culture!

4. Some asses are quieter than other

Isaiah describes the quiet voice of the suffering servant (Isa 42), as one who "will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street".  This simply make me wonder if there are important promptings we are just missing. 

Listen closely. Maybe the next ass you hear might be braying in Danish, "aeslet skryder, aeslet skryder!"